Welcome to Sites of (re)Collection

This site details a digital approach to a subset of the Evald Tang Kristensen collection of Danish Folklore. The goal of the project is to reanimate the archive through the use of advanced mapping and visualization tools, and to develop an infrastructure for other similar projects that allows for the straight-forward acquisition of digital assets, editing, map creation, and publication in multiple formats.

The Project

Sites of (re)Collection is based on a small subset of the enormous nineteenth century archival collections of Evald Tang Kristensen (1843-1929), the most prolific collector of folklore in Europe. The main component of his collections are 24,000 hand written field diary pages containing stories, songs, games, and descriptions of everyday life collected from nearly 3,500 named individuals. This collection is housed at the Danish Folklore Archives (Dansk folkemindesamling) who are currently planning for a comprehensive digitization of this archive.

Over the course of his collecting career from 1867 until his death—a period that saw the move toward a democratic Denmark, the development of the railways, electricity and the telephone, as well as the motorcar, urbanization and the beginnings of the social welfare state—Tang Kristensen amassed a sizable collection of material items from rural life, corresponded voluminously with well known intellectual figures including Grundtvig and Ibsen, and took hundreds of photographs. He encouraged others to collect folklore and descriptions of daily life and send them to him, thereby amassing thousands of pages of hand written manuscripts from ministers, school teachers and university students. Apart from collecting, he edited and published editions of his collected stories and songs, after making fair copy of excerpts of the field diaries. At the end of his career, he had published over eighty-five volumes of folklore—some indexed, some not. Fortunately, he produced a four volume memoir of all his travels that included vignettes of most of the people he met, all based on his voluminous correspondence with his wife. Unfortunately, these memoirs were not indexed either. At the same time as he was undertaking this massive collecting enterprise—an enterprise in no small part conditioned by a burgeoning Romantic nationalism—the Danish state was deeply engaged in developing elaborate census data, taxation and probate records, and mapping the landscape, while institutions such as the Lutheran church and insurance companies were busy detailing the minutia of people’s lives. All of these materials exist in various Danish archives, some in digital form and others not.

In short, the collection is an intriguing example of a remarkably complex humanities corpus—it not only includes the creative and scholarly output of a single individual (in this case Tang Kristensen), but it also includes the creative output of thousands of other individuals. Seen in this context, the collection is far more than simply a bunch of old stories. While Tang Kristensen’s correspondence provides an intriguing window into intellectual and political debates of the time, his storyteller’s narratives offer a fascinating lens onto changes in the social, political and economic organization of the countryside. The remarkably detailed historical maps produced at the time allow one to trace changes or discover phenomena in the physical environment that often lie at the root of a particular story. Ancillary materials such as census, insurance and church records contribute to the ethnographically thick description that suddenly begins to take shape when these records are placed in proper relation to one another. The biggest challenge of the project is making sense of this vast amount of data, and then structuring it so that computational techniques can help discover meaningful patterns. These patterns in turn can help us discern the complexities not only of traditional expressions and the politics of their collection, but also the nuances of everyday life in late nineteenth century rural Denmark.

In this initial project, the goal is to explore the folklore repertoires of five selected individuals--"Bitte" Jens Kristensen, (Ane) Margrete Jensdatter, Kirsten Marie Pedersdatter, Jens Peter Pedersen and Peder Johansen. Their repertoires will be transcribed, translated and annotated--these annotations will include not only references to but also the translations of a significant number of variant texts. The storyteller's biographies are also presented in significant detail, as are their interactions with Tang Kristensen. Tang Kristensen's own collecting enterprise is presented in English in a detailed fashion, along with a brief introduction to Danish folklore collection and nineteenth century Danish history. Finally, the project makes use of recently developed word-study and visualization tools, along with GIS-mapping tools as described in the sections on visualization and mapping.

Most folklore collections paint a remarkably one dimensional view of tradition focusing either on “typical” stories organized around themes and genre, or on the endeavors of a single collector. Scant if any attention is paid to the individual storytellers. The result of these standard presentations of folklore is that the complexity of the interrelationships between the collector; the storytellers; the social/political and physical environment; and their stories all disappear. The goal of this project is to present a series of tools that allows one to visualize these interrelationships, easily navigate and access the underlying archival materials and, ultimately, understand the entire archive in an ethnographically “thick” manner. By connecting the materials to each other so that the original relationships between storyteller, story, collector, and environment are reestablished, the archive comes alive. Similarly, by connecting the collector to his collaborators, interlocutors, critics and family, and by connecting the storytellers to their social and physical environments through maps and state archives, the richness of these individuals’ lives is much easier to comprehend. Tools that allow one to search across storytellers’ repertoires reveal the interconnectedness of both of the storytelling tradition and the storytellers themselves. Finally, by incorporating visualization tools such as mapping, clustering and other word study tools, the archive opens up to new vistas for interpreting the archive.

Some Background on Danish Folklore Collecting and 19th Century Denmark

Folklore collecting and publication in Denmark experienced a “Golden Age” during the nineteenth century. Successive encroachments on Danish sovereignty starting in the late eighteenth century and culminating with the 1864 war fought over the southern duchies of Schleswig and Holstein fanned the flames of a burgeoning cultural nationalism. Inspired by these nationalist sentiments, a large number of lay collectors and their academic backers began wide-ranging efforts to document what they deemed to be the vestiges of “authentic” Danish culture (Bendix 1998). This collecting did not occur in an intellectual vacuum, but rather received primary impetus from members of the intelligentsia in Copenhagen and was related to successive literary movements that included Oehlenschlager and other Romantic poets at century’s start, the rise of H. C. Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard mid-century, and the Modern Breakthrough and the Hjemstavns litteratur (regional literature) movement that dominated the elite literary circles of the last quarter of the century. In the midst of these literary developments, wave upon wave of increasingly ambitious folklore projects—such as Grundtvig’s exhaustive Danmarks gamle Folkeviser [Denmark’s old Folk ballads]—led to some of the most comprehensive collections in the world (Grundtvig 1853-1917; Thiele 1843-1860; Tang Kristensen 1892-1901). Interestingly, few scholars if any have tried to fit this collecting activity into the context of essentially urban literary developments, nor has anyone attempted to fit these same collections into a broader historical context beyond acknowledging the influence of Romantic nationalism. These lapses have effectively isolated the study of folklore from the study of the development of modern literature and culture.

Studies of nineteenth century Denmark have generally considered urban developments and elite intellectual trends together to the exclusion of rural culture and rural development. I propose to correct this situation. Changes to rural life during this period were not solely limited to agricultural development, the creation of a well-developed transportation infrastructure, and economic reorganization. By 1814, a school law was in place that led to nearly universal literacy by early mid-century for both men and women, an unusual situation in Europe at that time. Local newspapers and booksellers became commonplace with the result that the rural population was far more aware of intellectual developments in urban centers and abroad than most scholars have recognized. Among the newly educated and literate population, local presses found a ravenous appetite for folkebøger (popular literature) and broadsides, while folklorists found an eager audience for their collections. As a direct consequence of the national education laws, a relatively well-educated group of school teachers was sent to teach in the far flung corners of the country and formed among themselves an informal, yet comprehensive network—it is this network of teachers on whom many of the folklore collectors relied, another fact generally ignored by most studies of these folklore collections (Holbek 1987; Nørr 1981 and 1994). Among the most important developments of the nineteenth century was the promulgation of the democratic constitution of 1849. The constitution not only ended the absolute monarchy, but ushered in a new parliamentary system, guaranteed freedom of religious expression, extended voting rights to all adult men, and made rural dwellers and urban dwellers equal before the law, thereby eliminating the significant burden of conscription that had accrued solely to the rural population up to that point (Bitsch-Christensen 2000). While urban centers may have been developing with alarming speed during this period, the rural areas were experiencing their own “great transformation” as well.